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Invited Speaker Series 2011-12
Abstracts and biographies

Date: 04/10/2011
Speaker: Dr Simon Singh & Alan Henness

Title: Battling Bogus Medical Claims

Abstract 

The Nightingale Collaboration was established in 2011 to tackle misleading claims by alternative therapists. Its projects have highlighted false online advertising by homeopaths, craniosacral therapists and reflexologists. The speakers will explain how it is possible to protect the public by working with regulatory bodies to remove unjustified, and sometimes potentially dangerous, claims from the web.

Biographies 

Simon Singh is the author of books such as “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial”. He is a libel reform campaigner (after being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association) and helped establish the Nightingale Collaboration. Alan Henness is a director of the Nightingale Collaboration, with Maria MacLachlan, and has developed a series of tools and campaigns to combat unjustified claims by alternative therapists.



Date: 18/10/2011
Speaker: 
Dr David Barrett
Title:  The Church of Scientology – a Scientific or an Esoteric Religion?

Abstract 

The Church of Scientology claims to be based on scientific principles but actually bears a considerable resemblance to esoteric, Hermetic and Gnostic religious movements. David Barrett will explore these similarities, while also examining Dianetics as a form of psychotherapy, and looking into why people join and stay in “cults”, touching on the myth of “brainwashing”.

He will also look at the use of popular culture in new religions, and discuss assorted deceptions common to many esoteric religions, including the self-creation of the mythology of a guru – and just how big the Church of Scientology really is. 

This illustrated talk ranges from psychology to science fiction to superman, with just a hint of magick...

Biography 

Dr David V Barrett has worked in teaching, British and American government intelligence and journalism, and has been a freelance writer specialising in new religious movements and secret societies for 20 years. He gained his PhD in Sociology of Religion from the London School of Economics in 2009. His most recent book is A Brief Guide to Secret Religions (Constable & Robinson, 2011).




Date: 29/11/2011
Speaker: Prof Amina Memon

Title: Making the best use of video identification parades and meeting the needs of vulnerable witnesses

Abstract 

Eyewitness identification decisions from 1,039 real lineups conducted in England in 2009-10 were analyzed. Identification procedures have undergone dramatic change in the United Kingdom over recent years. Video lineups are now standard procedure, in which each lineup member is seen sequentially. The whole lineup is seen twice before the witness can make a decision, and the witness can request additional viewings of the lineup. Consistent with prior field studies using live parades, the suspect identification rate was 39%, the filler identification rate was 26%, and the lineup rejection rate was 35%.  Repeated viewing was strongly associated with increased filler identification rates, suggesting that witnesses who requested additional viewings were more willing to guess. Factors associated with lineup outcomes such as the age difference between the suspect and the witness, the type of crime committed, and delay will be briefly discussed. Finally, Prof Memon present proposed changes to the guidance on the conduct of identification parades funded by an ESRC funded knowledge transfer grant.  

Biography

Prof Memon is currently Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is a Fellow of both the British Psychological Society and the Association of Psychological Science. She is an Associate Editor of both “Applied Cognitive Psychology” and “The Psychologist”. Prof Memon’s main area of expertise is Applied Social and Cognitive Psychology and she has been conducting research in the Psychology and Law area for 25 years. Her research is international with collaborations in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, North America, Germany and Sweden. She has received numerous awards to support her research and has over 90 publications.




Date: 22/11/2011
Speaker: 
Dr Susan Blackmore
Title: A 21st Century Séance

Abstract 

When Susan Blackmore attended her first séance back in 1971 she already knew something of the history of spiritualism: its beginnings with two young girls in New York State in 1848, its rapid spread across America and Europe, and the Victorian rage for private séances where a medium might be gagged and bound inside a curtained cabinet while astonished sitters in the blacked-out room awaited “physical phenomena” such as disembodied voices, wisps of ectoplasm from the medium’s orifices, or even materialised spirits. She never experienced any such inexplicable thrills! Indeed after Michael Faraday’s conclusive experiments in 1853, and countless subsequent exposures of fraud one might have expected the whole circus to disappear. But no – it is still with us. After a decade of avoiding the paranormal, curiosity has tempted her to accept an invitation to just such a séance in October 2011. She will report on what precautions she takes, what happens, and whether or not she witnesses the promised inexplicable physical phenomena.

Biography 

Sue Blackmore is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She blogs for the Guardian and Psychology Today, and often appears on radio and television. Her book “The Meme Machine” (1999) has been translated into 15 other languages; more recent books include “Conversations on Consciousness” (2005), “Zen and the Art of Consciousness” (2011), and a textbook “Consciousness: An Introduction” (2 ed., 2010).



Date: 06/12/2011
Speaker: Carl Miller & Jamie Bartlett
Title: Truth and the Net

Abstract 

Jamie and Carl will talk about their forthcoming (September 2011) report “Truth and the Net” which examines the extent that conspiracy theories and misinformation are entering the classroom and how far young people are equipped with the digital literacy required to confront them. This is based on a large national survey of teachers on the subject. They’ll sketch out the critical thinking skills, habits and knowledge young people need. 

Biographies 

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme at the think tank Demos. He researches and writes about a wide variety of extremist groups. He recently authored a major paper on al-Qaeda terrorism, which included living alongside radical Islamists. He is currently leading a research team conducting the largest ever survey of the far-right in Europe. Carl Miller is an Associate at Demos and a researcher at King’s College London. He is interested in belief formation, extremism, dissent, the Internet and social media.


Date: 10/01/2012
Speaker:  David Allen Green 
Title: Two Types of Evidence – Scientific vs. Legal Proof

Abstract

Lawyer and writer David Allen Green will discuss how the legal system has dealt with paranormal and other irrational beliefs, from witchcraft trials to the Satanic abuse scandals.

Biography

David Allen Green is convenor of Westminster Skeptics, writes the “Jack of Kent” blog, and sits on the editorial advisory board of The Skeptic magazine. He is a solicitor and legal correspondent of the New Statesman.


Date: 17/01/2012
Speaker: Alasdair Hopwood
Title: (False) Memories are Made of This: The current preoccupations of The WITH Collective

Abstract 

A FALSE MEMORY is a distorted or entirely invented recollection of an experience. 

The artist and creator of The WITH Collective, Alasdair Hopwood will give a potted history of the critically acclaimed art project and will talk about his current research into False Memory as Artist-in-Residence at the APRU under the guidance of Professor Chris French. Hopwood will outline his ambitions for the residency and highlight areas of particular interest, presenting aspects of the rich and highly visual history of false memory experiments. He will also attempt to rationalise the role of the artist within a scientific setting and touch on the possibilities and limitations of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

“It is possible that much of what we take to be our personal autobiographical history is based upon false, or at least distorted, memories” Professor Christopher C. French, Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, No. 6-7, 2003, p.170.

Biography

Since 2002, The WITH Collective (WITH) have received critical praise in the UK and beyond, largely through the creation of a range of concepts that are for sale at their website withyou.co.uk. Examples include: Knowthing where a commissioner can have their ‘me-time’ delegated to a member of the collective, Traumaformat where WITH will experience your worst fears for you, as you and Mymory where you can have a memory recovered (or lost) on your behalf. These darkly comic concepts or ‘Solutions’ are the primary manifestation of the artwork; the theme that links all of the ideas together is that a client can have an experience either invented or lived out on their behalf by a member of the collective. WITH have exhibited internationally, creating projects and commissions for a variety of galleries including Tate Britain, The Hayward Gallery, The V&A, The ICA, K3 Zurich and the British Council, New Delhi. The WITH Collective are represented by Rokeby.

WITH Website: http://www.withyou.co.uk/

Review of last solo show at Chapter: http://www.withyou.co.uk/jjessay.html


Date: 24/01/2012 
Speaker:  Dr Jason J. Braithwaite
Title: Neurocognitive Correlates of the Out-of-Body Experience in the Non-Clinical Population

Abstract

Recent evidence suggests that the complex neurocognitive processes underlying stable self-awareness and embodiment are not error-proof and can breakdown, leading to striking distortions in body-image and body-based hallucinations. One such hallucination is the Out-of-Body Experience (OBE). The current dominant view is that perspective-taking processes in the temporo-parietal junction regions may sub-serve the shift in perspective underlying the experiential content of the OBE. In this presentation, Dr Braithwaite will review the prior neurological evidence for these assertions and question some of the assumptions surrounding the behavioural tasks employed to investigate these claims. In addition, he will present the latest and most recent findings from his own laboratory showing that (i) previous tasks employed to assess spatial aspects of the OBE are unlikely to be perspective-taking tasks; (ii) non-clinical OBEers display elevated scores on measures of temporal-lobe dysfunction; (iii) OBEers do show specific biases in body-transformation processing – when methodological limitations are addressed; (iv) OBEers display an advantage for elevated perspective-taking tasks relative to controls; and (v) he will present evidence from a new task which has revealed increased levels of cortical hyperexcitabililiy in the OBE population.

Biography

Dr Jason Braithwaite is a lecturer in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience at the Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre, University of Birmingham. His research interests are broad and span areas such as (i) the relationship between visual attention and awareness, (ii) underlying mechanisms of failures of visual awareness, (iii) perspective-taking mechanisms and hallucinations of the self, and (iv) hallucinations, delusions and instances of anomalous cognition in patient and non-clinical populations. He is currently heading projects investigating both neural and cognitive factors that may predispose certain individuals to report anomalous experiences of the self.


Date: 31/01/2012
Speaker: 
Dr Krissy Wilson
Title:  Beyond Belief Down Under

Abstract 

Allegedly Australia is the most sceptical nation on earth. However, after four years investigating a range of beliefs down under, Dr Krissy Wilson has an alternative view.  Join Krissy as she explores the weird and not so wonderful amongst our Antipodean cousins, presents a review of recent research projects and makes some provocative conclusions about the nature of doubt and belief.

Biography 

Dr Krissy Wilson is a lecturer and psychologist. She has had rather an eclectic career starting out as a professional actress. She then joined British Airways and worked as cabin crew for six years. Whilst working for BA, she studied for a BSc in Psychology and went on to complete a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, with Prof Chris French. In 2007, she emigrated to Australia taking up a position at the University of Tasmania. After two years she was let out on good behaviour and is now lecturer and Head of S.O.A.P (Science of Anomalistic Phenomena) at Charles Sturt University, New South Wales.  During her time in Australia she has published in a variety of journals and magazines, appeared on TV and national and state radio and recently performed at The Amazing Meeting (TAM 2010) in Sydney. She has recently been accused of being the evil twin of the infamous Elbologist, Dr Sue Ryersis, a claim that Dr Wilson flatly denies. Her main research topics are the creation of false memories, and the psychology of religious and paranormal beliefs and experiences. Since living in Australia she became a member of the Australian Skeptics Association, and has tried her hand at stand-up comedy, wildlife rescue and if you need your bathroom tiling then Krissy’s your girl!




Date: 07/02/2012
Speaker: Dr Rupert Sheldrake
Title: The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry

Abstract

The science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality in principle, leaving only the details to be filled in. Modern science is based on ten fundamental assumptions that have hardened into dogmas. Rupert Sheldrake argues that when these dogmas are turned into questions, in the spirit of scientific scepticism, many new lines of scientific enquiry become possible. Questions include: “Is the mind confined to the brain?”  and “Is the  total amount of matter and energy always the same?”

Biography 

Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of over 80 papers and several books, including “The Science Delusion”, to be published in January 2012. His web site is www.sheldrake.org


Date: 21/02/2012
Speaker:  Andy Lewis 
Title:  The Persistence of Delusion: Why do Some Alternative Medicines Thrive and Others Die?

Abstract

The late eighteenth century was a very creative time for inventing new forms of quackery and some people became wealthy on the back of their creations. Of these creations, it is perhaps only homeopathy that has survived virtually unchanged into the 21st century. The majority of alternative medicines available today have been invented and developed within living memory, despite claims of their origins in antiquity.

What makes an alternative medicine successful? Why should homeopathy survive when the very popular Tractors of Perkins have long since been forgotten? Could you have predicted this in 1800? Today, we have a new industry of quack devices protecting us from mobile phones. Should you invest in such enterprises?

In this talk, Andy will look at the factors that allow patent medicines to thrive, and why consumers and practitioners latch onto them. Importantly, we shall explore the implications of these views for regulation and protecting the public from delusional or fraudulent claims.

Biography 

Andy Lewis developed the Quackometer website that explores the pseudoscientific claims of alternative medicine websites and their impact on society.



Date: 28/02/2012
Speaker: 
 Prof Erlendur Haraldsson
Title:  Kant as a psychical researcher: Swedenborgs and Indridason´s descriptions of remote fires in Stockholm and Copenhagen

Abstract 

The philosopher Immanual Kant was perplexed by stories about the paranormal feats of the Swedish scientist/mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. He asked a trusted English merchant-friend to interview witnesses. When Swedenborg was visiting Gothenburg in 1759 he described at a banquet a fire that raged near his home in Stockholm 247 miles away. The  correctness of his descriptions were verified when news arrived in Gothenburg a few days later. The findings given to him by his investigator seem to have become an emotional issue for Kant for he expressed opposite views about it, a positive one in private and in public rejecting, ridiculing views.

Prof Haraldsson will review this famous case and a similar case from 1905, much better documented, that took place between Reykjavik and Copenhagen before radio or telephone communication existed between the two cities. Documents in Danish archives reveal fascinating details which will be displayed in a powerpoint presentation. There follows a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the cases and their possible explanations.

Biography 

Erlendur Haraldsson is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg in Germany and did further studies at the University of Virginia. He has published over two hundred papers, mostly on anomalistic experiences, national surveys, field studies and experiments, and also on psychological testing and interrogative suggestibility. He is the author of five books, two of which have appeared in many languages (“At the hour of death” and “Miracles are my visiting cards”). For further details, see his homepage: http://www.hi.is/~erlendur/



Date: 06/03/2012 
Speaker:  Dr Miguel Farias
Title: Faith in Science? The Psychological Functions of Believing in Science

Abstract

While running studies with religious/spiritual participants, Dr Farias often used atheists as a control group. In time, the thought of assessing what these people believed in emerged. Using a large set of questions on naturalistic ideas, he developed a scale of belief in science which has been used in lab and field experiments. In his talk he will describe these studies and discuss their astonishing results, which suggest that religious faith’s ability of alleviating stress and existential anxiety is closely mirrored by belief in science.

Biography

Miguel Farias is a departmental lecturer at the University of Oxford. He specialises in the psychology of beliefs, including spiritual and secular.


Date: 13/03/2012
Speaker: 
Massimo Polidoro
Title:  Magic or Miracle? Putting Psychic Powers to the Test

Abstract 

Are there really people who can predict the future, find lost persons or hidden treasures, guess the content of sealed boxes or move objects without touching them? Many are genuinely convinced that they have these powers, but don't really know how to test them properly. Others have different motives for their claims… Drawing on the extensive files of his own research and that of CICAP, the Italian skeptics committee, Massimo Polidoro will examine some of the most bizarre claims made during the past 20 years and the original experiments devised to test them.

Biography 

Massimo Polidoro, a journalist and writer, is cofounder and head of the Italian skeptics group CICAP. He began his career as an apprentice of James Randi and is now the author of over thirty books. A Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow and columnist for the “Skeptical Inquirer”, his website is http://www.massimopolidoro.com.




Date: 20/03/2012
Speaker: Prof. Richard Wiseman
Title: Something Interesting...

Abstract

Prof Richard Wiseman presents a veritable smorgasbord of skeptical oddities and delights, including the world's first film of a magician, experimental investigations into prophesy, the truth about flea circuses, and the solution to the world's greatest mystery.  All new material and a free packet of peanuts for the best question.

Biography

Richard Wiseman currently holds Britain’s only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He frequently appears on the media, and has written over 60 academic articles and several books, including The Luck Factor (2003), Quirkology (2007), and his latest book, Paranormality (2011). Much of his research has examined the possible existence of psychic ability and the factors that might lead someone to believe that paranormal forces exist even if, in fact, they do not.


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